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"The One Thing Needed" - 6th Sunday after Pentecost - July 17, 2022

In the name of God, who is love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

You know, it’s wonderful to find a passage like our Gospel for today. It’s such an affirmation for people like me. Now I know that I’ve been living with the right priorities. Jesus himself tells us that one thing is needed, and that one thing is NOT housework. Am I right?

Okay. That might not be quite the message we should take from this story of Jesus in the home of Martha and her sister Mary.

To come to a more meaningful understanding of this story, perhaps we should imagine ourselves in the place of the early disciples. They aren’t mentioned in the sections of Luke we read last Sunday and this morning, but the disciples are there throughout this trip to Jerusalem. And all along, they are learning from Jesus in public and in private about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom that is in their midst. The Kingdom that they are taught to pray will come on earth as in heaven. The Kingdom that is to come in its fullness at some unknown time in the future. The Kingdom in which they experience a new kind of life, eternal life.

The core of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God is found in what we heard last Sunday: the exchange between Jesus and the lawyer, the expert in Jewish law. The lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus elicits the following key summary of the Jewish law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Then comes the Parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.

The disciples surely need more teaching and more time to truly digest that summary of the Jewish law. They’ve been taught to keep 613 commandments, and Jesus is saying that “Love God fully, and love your neighbor as yourself” capture what’s important to know. That’s a new focus for them. Plus, what can they make of a Samaritan as a hero, as a good neighbor? With that parable, Jesus pushes them to look beyond ethnic and religious stereotypes and prejudices. God’s kingdom is open to all.

After the discussion with the lawyer, Jesus and the disciples travel an unknown distance before entering the village where Martha and Mary live. Luke’s Gospel connects the two stories as though there’s almost no gap.1 Jesus accepts hospitality from Martha, a woman who owns her own home, unusual in that culture. And he welcomes Mary into the circle of his disciples sitting at his feet and learning, very unusual for a woman in that culture. Here, Jesus pushes his disciples to look beyond gender stereotypes and prejudices. God’s kingdom is open to all.

I imagine that in that hospitable home Jesus continues to teach about the Kingdom of God. About loving God fully and loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s such a rich topic. I wonder if they discuss the balance between action (like the Good Samaritan exhibited in the parable) and contemplation (like they are exhibiting by listening attentively to their Lord).

Meanwhile, where is Martha? Well, she’s doing what a willing host needs to do when several people suddenly show up. She has food to prepare and the home to arrange to accommodate all her guests. What a lovely expression of love to God and neighbor!

Except Martha isn’t very loving at the moment. Her sister Mary doesn’t help Martha with the tasks. Martha isn’t happy about this, and she complains to Jesus. Jesus answers her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

What is the “one thing” that is needed? The context helps us here. The one thing that is needed is LOVE. Mary is showing her love for God as she listens to Jesus’ teaching about God’s Kingdom. Martha could be showing her love for God and neighbor as she does the tasks necessary to be hospitable. But, instead, she’s distracted and grumbling. She’s judging her sister. And judging has led Martha away from love.

The disciples are not yet finished learning what it means to love God fully and love their neighbors as themselves. In this life, none of us do finish learning this vital lesson. St. Andrew’s is a church that values and strives toward love. Certainly love toward God and love within our church community. And increasingly we are seeking to love all our neighbors—near and far, expanding beloved community.

Part of the challenge of learning the lesson of love is to realize that each person shows love in different ways. Some may be more inclined to practical action. Others may be more inclined to contemplative practices. The exact nature of our worship and our service differs. God is qualified to judge if we are worshipping and serving with love. We do not need to judge others. In fact, judging leads us away from love.

Today and perhaps several times this week, we’ll pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” May that prayer remind us that in God’s kingdom, “there is need of only one thing:” LOVE. Amen.


1For a discussion of the connection between these two accounts, see pages 231-232 of The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume VIII – Luke John. Edited by Leander E. Keck. Abingdon Press, 2015.

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